A growing number of grandparents are raising their grandchildren and a new study suggests they may not be as informed as they need to be when it comes to safety.
While grandparents do have years of child-rearing experience, a study presented this week at the American Academy of Pediatrics conference says some are relying on old data and unintentionally putting their grandkids' health and safety at risk.
"Pediatricians need to be aware, and they need to make sure they are going over (the) most recent safety recommendations with grandparents," says lead study author Dr. Amanda Soong.
Researchers surveyed three grandparent support groups, a total of 49 participants in the Birmingham, Ala., metro area. All of the grandparents in the survey were caregivers for their grandchildren. They were given a general 15 question survey about safety for kids of all ages.
When asked, "What is the best position for a baby to sleep in?" 33 percent said the stomach, 23 percent chose the side and 43.8 percent chose the back. In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics began recommending that babies sleep on their backs. Since then, the number of deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS -- the number one cause of death among infants younger than 1 year of age - has been cut in half, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician and best-selling author of "The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Birth to 5 Years," suggests swaddling babies when you place them on their backs, since they don't naturally sleep their best in that position.
"We need to teach parents how to get babies sleeping better on their backs so (they're) not tempted to put them on their stomachs or bring them to bed with them. We need to be much more proactive about that because parents are desperate to get sleep."
When study participants were asked what should be in a crib with the baby, 49 percent said bumpers, stuffed animals and blankets were OK. Only 26.5 percent answered correctly: just a mattress with a sheet.
When asked at what age a baby should start drinking water, 42.9 percent said 2 weeks. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life. That means that aside from vitamins or medications if needed, infants should only be fed mother's milk (not even water).
When asked how to position a car seat, 24.5 percent of the grandparents surveyed said a 22 pound 9 month old should be facing forward. The 2011 AAP guidelines advise parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until they are 2 years old or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their particular seat. The AAP also says that most children will need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age.
While this is just a small survey, Soong says her gut feeling is that this is applicable across the board and that "pediatricians need to be aware grandparents may have knowledge deficits. " She adds that even if grandparents don't have primary care of these kids, parents need to educate their parents on safety guidelines before leaving children in their care.
Karp adds, "It's a warning to pediatricians to make sure we are repeating what we think could be obvious." Sometimes even doctors fall behind on information so it's important grandparents recognize and seek out information, not to just assume what they did in past is right.